The number of legionella-related illnesses are on the rise in Michigan.
So far in this year there have been 10 confirmed cases in Genesee County, according to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS). Confirmed cases also include 24 in the City of Detroit, 19 in Macomb County, 16 in Oakland County and 11 in Wayne County. Twenty-four of the cases have been confirmed statewide since July 1, and another 13 cases are pending confirmation.
Across Michigan there have been 135 confirmed cases of legionellosis reported in 33 counties so far this year compared to 107 confirmed cases during the same timeframe in 2017. Legionellosis includes Legionnaires’ disease and the milder Pontiac fever.
Legionellosis is a respiratory infection caused by Legionella bacteria. Legionnaires’ disease is an infection with symptoms that include fever, cough and pneumonia. A milder form of legionellosis, Pontiac fever, is an influenza-like illness without pneumonia that resolves on its own.
Most healthy individuals do not become infected after exposure to Legionella. Individuals at a higher risk of getting sick include the following:
- People over age 50
- Current or former smokers
- People with chronic lung disease
- People with weakened immune systems from diseases, such as cancer, diabetes or liver or kidney failure
- People who take immunosuppressant drugs
This increase corresponds with national increases in Legionellosis. Legionellosis is most common in the summer and early fall when warming, stagnant waters present the best environment for bacterial growth in water systems.
Legionella bacteria are found naturally in fresh water lakes and streams but can also be found in man-made water systems. Potable water systems, cooling towers, whirlpool spas and decorative fountains offer common environments for bacterial growth and transmission if they are not cleaned and maintained properly. Warm water, stagnation and low disinfectant levels are conditions that support growth in these water systems.
Transmission to people occurs when mist or vapor containing the bacteria is inhaled. Legionellosis does not spread person to person.
Risk factors for exposure to Legionella bacteria include:
- Recent travel with an overnight stay
- Recent stay in a healthcare facility
- Exposure to hot tubs
- Exposure to settings where the plumbing has had recent repairs or maintenance work
MDHHS is coordinating with local health departments across the state to investigate the cases this summer. MDHHS and local health departments are working to inform healthcare providers of the increase in cases and share information regarding testing and treatment.
Individuals with any concerns about Legionnaires’ disease or exposure to the Legionella bacteria should talk to their healthcare provider. MDHHS and local health departments will continue to monitor cases and provide updates to the public.
More information on Legionella and Legionnaires’ Disease can be found on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website.